At the start of this summer I spent some time thinking about how I would structure my day in order to get more writing done. I wanted to find a daily schedule that I could follow consistently, without the risk of burnout.
This post will outline some of the things I’ve learned about how to spend time writing productively each and every day.
While my summer writing routine has not been a total success – there are inevitably ups and downs in the writing process – overall I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made on my PhD dissertation on a consistent basis.
My first point of reference was the excellent Manage Your Day-to-Day. ’20 leading creative minds’ have each written a chapter on an aspect of their daily work practices.
In addition, I did some research on how other writers structure their days (hint: not like this). Brainpickings regularly posts on writing. I found this series from a professional blogging website useful. The University of Durham Dept. of Anthropology has a ‘Writing on Writing‘ section on its website that’s very helpful.
So, having read a little bit about how other, more prolific writers go about their day, I attempted to pick out the habits that I thought I could manage to take-up. Below are some ideas that resonated with me, how I tried to incorporate them into my routine, and how they worked out:
1) You can only be ‘creatively productive’ a few hours each day.
Many writers I read about can only take-on their word processing software from between 2 to 5 hours a day. Some focus on word-count (i.e. 1,000 words a day), though I’ve found a word target to be more helpful at the idea generation stage of writing but less so as the project takes shape. When focusing purely on words written a good editing session is penalised.
(I should stress that the 2 to 5 hour figure is for the creative writing process. Reading, note-taking, bibliographic organisation, starting a business, etc. are the kind of tasks for the other hours of the working day.)
A key concept I’ve wholeheartedly taken to heart is that when creating a writing schedule you are managing your energy rather than your time. Regular breaks, walks, and runs are examples of important parts of the writing process, not wasted time to feel guilty about.
Any energy-giving hobby that you can can easily fit into a daily routine is to be encouraged. I’ve taken my running more seriously this summer, and it has definitely helped my writing. ‘Energy-giving’ activities for me are simple tasks that give a sense of achievement: running, walking, reading, gardening … even doing the dreaded dishes.
2) Cut media consumption.
‘Manage Your Day-to-Day’ mentions being mindful of your long term goals when planning a routine. Do your daily habits get you to where you want to go? This prompted me to think about my media consumption and to cut back distractions (generally too much news and too much sport).
The caveat here is not to give up all those distractions that can boost your energy by making you happy, you want that positive energy for writing!
I consider the Internet, blogging, and social media to be important tools for my work, but not in excess, which is all to easy to stumble into. I spent a few hours limiting the information that reaches me:
- I ruthlessly cut RSS feeds.
- I unsubscribed from unwanted email newsletters (and tried to move those I did want to RSS to reduce inbox clutter).
- ‘Unliked’ or muted many feeds on Facebook.
- Stuck to my managed lists and relevant hashtags on Twitter.
These tweaks worked really well. I’ve been meaning to organise my media consumption for a while, and would recommend the time invested (assuming you don’t often prune your feeds, like me).
3) Distraction free writing time is non-negotiable.
I’ve learned that procrastination is not the real problem, the energy it takes choosing not to procrastinate is. Constantly making the choice not to check this or that takes effort. That effort is better spent on the actual task of writing. My intention was to cut out large blocks of time, limit potential distractions as much as possible, and focus exclusively on writing.
Cutting off the Internet is actually surprisingly difficult with smartphones, ubiquitous wifi, and (in the library, at least) workstations everywhere. This habit was the hardest to implement properly. I actually felt fairly self-conscious about this one: ‘Surely I have the will power to resist these trivial distractions!’ Well, the whole point is to take away any choice in the matter. There’s no way to get sucked into the Internet wormhole if you physically can’t access the web.
To exit the connected world:
- I disabled the Internet for a minimum of 4 hours a day (sometimes from 9am-5pm, and the world didn’t end.). No email. No RSS. No social-media.
- I switched my SIM-card into a dumb phone to prevent cheating.
This was (and is) wildly successful. My writing time has been much more productive, I have more time to think, and I’ve been reading more as well. Rather than check email, I’m now much more likely to grab a book when I need a 10 minute break.
Self-Control is easily my favourite software right now (and it’s free).
4) Consistency is key.
None of the above habits are anything particularly exciting or special. But performed consistently they help get writing done. All-day binge writing is possible, but not sustainable; it’s a thing of the past for me (deadlines excepted!).
The whole point of my mini-experiment was to discover for myself what a consistently achievable writing schedule might be. Everyone is different, and I’d recommend trying similar experiments to find a workable daily routine that works for you.
Please let me know your own ideas on creating a workable daily writing routine!